Street cat smarts

Unknown-1“My goodness, that was strong talk for an Englishman,” says the Earl of Grantham to his valet, Bates, after a brief discussion of feelings in Season Four of “Downton Abbey.” Though divided by social position, these two Englishmen are among each other’s best friends and allies.

Fast forward nearly a century to two more, very real Englishmen who formed an unlikely and unique bond: James Bowen, a London street musician; and a ginger tomcat named Bob. Bowen tells their story in “A Street Cat Named Bob” (St. Martin’s Press, 2012), subtitled, “And How He Saved My Life.”

Bowen was a recovering heroin addict who, as he describes it, had failed to take any of the many opportunities he’d been given. Then one evening he came home to find a ginger tom curled up in front of the door to one of the ground-floor flats in his building. “There was a quiet, unflappable confidence about him,” Bowen recalled. Having a soft spot for felines, he said, “I couldn’t resist kneeling down and introducing myself.”

He stroked the thin cat’s neck; there was no collar and his coat was in poor condition. Bowen wanted to take the apparently homeless creature home then and there — but his friend said the cat must belong to whoever lived in the flat whose door he was camped outside. Reluctantly, Bowen agreed. After all, the last thing he needed was the responsibility of a pet.

The cat was still there the next morning. Again Bowen stopped to pet him, eliciting purrs. That’s when he noticed the scratches on the cat’s face and legs, and became even more concerned. Reluctantly, he headed out for another day’s work busking at Covent Garden. When he returned that night, the cat was gone — but in the morning, there he was again in the same spot. Bowen finally knocked on the door. “What cat?” the tenant said. “Nothing to do with me.”

Bowen fed the cat, treated the abscessed wound on his leg, and tried to figure out where he belonged. Concerned about the wound — and about fleas, which had been fatal to a kitten he had as a child — Bowen took his new charge to the nearest RSPCA clinic. He went home with an antibiotic and a couple of weeks’ worth of cat food. The exam, medication, and food cost all the money Bowen had. Still: “I don’t know why, but the responsibility of having him to look after galvanised me a little bit.”

The four-legged half of the duo got a name: Bob, after Killer Bob in the TV series, “Twin Peaks.” Like most young felines, he could go from zero to maniac in seconds, but he took his meds well (an easily pillable cat is something special indeed) and understood everything he was told. Bowen, however, resisted forming too strong a friendship, and after Bob was well he tried to send the cat on his way.

But Bob had chosen Bowen, and of course the cat is the one who does the choosing and adopting. He began to accompany Bowen on his daily busking ventures, trotting along beside him on a lead (or riding on his shoulder, as he charmingly does on the book cover). While Bowen played his guitar, Bob sat nearby or curled up in the case. He was quite a crowd-pleaser. There was an increase in contributions, and some people who frequented the area brought gifts for Bob. Bowen learned the name for “cat” in several languages.

One day, a man’s threatening behavior frightened Bob into running away. Bowen searched frantically, fearing for Bob’s safety in busy London and that perhaps his feline friend really didn’t want to be with him after all. Those fears were dispelled when the two were reunited, thanks to two kind shopkeepers who took the cat in.

The busker with the cat also drew the attention of the local police, and eventually Bowen had to find another line of work. He began selling The Big Issue, a professionally-produced newspaper sold by the homeless, vulnerably housed, and marginalized. (I had never heard of this publication, but it’s heartening to hear of a print publication doing well enough to sustain street sales.)

In addition to all the challenges the two faced on the streets, Bowen nursed Bob through a scary, garbage-induced illness. That helped inspire Bowen to take that final step toward getting completely clean himself: getting off methadone. Bob stayed right by Bowen’s side through the worst of the withdrawal. Bowen realized he had reached a level of recovery and stability he’d never thought possible. Bob became known as The Big Issue Cat.

He and Bowen have become celebrities, with Bob making appearances in hand-knitted scarves and obligingly giving high-fives, and it looks like a sequel and one or two books have followed. By all accounts, though, he remains humble, a ginger tom who loves his human.

You probably won’t see James and Bob busking at Covent Garden these days, but you can find them on Facebook.

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Leaning unto a new understanding

TrustintheLord

No arguments here; trusting in the Lord is a good idea. Challenging at times, yes, but still a good idea. It’s the “lean not unto thine own understanding” part of this passage that, until recently, left me puzzled.

Our own understanding, I reasoned, is how we get through life — understanding the need to steer clear of a hot stove, our neighbor’s need not to hear our stereo, and the relative insignificance of the things we worried about last month or five years ago. We are put on earth to learn, grow, and understand in order to be better earthen vessels of God’s love, right? So why would we not lean on that while we trust in the Lord? Are the two mutually exclusive, as the verse seems to suggest?

The passage above is the King James Version. The New Revised Standard Version, which was our regulation study Bible in seminary, is not much help, wording it: “Do not rely on your own insight.” The Living Bible even kicks it up a notch: “Trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself.” Yikes.

Not trusting ourselves, our intuition, and what we have learned hobbles us in life and decreases our ability to trust and serve God. If we trust that God put us here — gifts and flaws and all — for a reason, and we do not trust ourselves, are we really trusting God?

More doubts creep in: “What if I’m not doing it right? Look at all my mistakes . . . sure, God forgives, but I can’t forgive myself. Of course I can’t trust my own understanding.”

So we look to someone or something else — a parent, therapist, partner, our work, our politics — to measure and determine our worthiness. Talk about slippery slopes and shifting sands.

Clarity on this Proverbs passage eluded me for years until a friend and I were talking about prayer — not the talking, requesting, praising, or thanking part, but the listening part of prayer. We talked about the importance and challenge of letting Spirit reach through the clutter of our minds, especially the mental chatter that cuts us down, and speak to our hearts. That’s when she mentioned the “trust in the Lord with your whole heart” verse, her new favorite.

And that’s when it all clicked. That still, small voice that lifts us up — not the one that tells us we’re not good enough, nothing we do makes a difference, and that some other human being always knows better — is what we can trust. It comes directly from God to us . . . but how do we know which is which?

Doreen Virtue explores this in her book “Divine Guidance: How to Have a Dialogue with God and Your Guardian Angels.” Divine guidance comes from God and God’s creations, including our higher self, angels/ascended masters, and our loved ones on the other side, Virtue says. False guidance comes from our or others’ lower self (or ego). Our higher self is set at the factory, so to speak; it is perfect, whole, and complete, just as God created. The ego is created not by God but by ourselves as we and those around us operate under the dark illusion that we are separate from God.

Virtue includes charts that break down the distinctions between the higher and lower self, and between true and false guidance. True guidance, for example, is gentle, loving, empowering, says the same thing repeatedly, and most often emerges in response to prayer. Even if we are being warned about something, that information is given calmly, constructively, and in a way that encourages us to respond rather than react. False guidance is anxious or angry, critical, disempowering, switches topics and perspectives impulsively, and comes in response to worry.

This all fits with what I have learned and experienced about intuition, our God-given communication and navigation tool. The ego is easy to hear; it’s loud, in your face, and always has a fire to put out or someone to please. Clearing that clutter to tap into our intuition can require more conscious effort, such as prayer, meditation, or exercise (or all of these), though some intuitive insights seem to come out of the blue. In either case, intuitive or God-given information is delivered in an uplifting way. Human beings may reprimand, condescend, or rebuke; God is greater.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart” — not just with thine brain. If we can hear God with our hearts and put these overloaded brains of ours to use following through on that guidance, our paths may not be smooth or straight — but they will be our paths, and God’s.

Build a better press release

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Now we turn to writing a more detailed press release. Here are my top tips for producing press releases the media will use:

1. Hire someone who knows what they’re doing. OK, grammatically speaking, hire someone who knows what he or she is doing. Heck, just hire me.

Still want to do it yourself? Read on.

2. Send your press release by email; see my previous news-release how-to about finding email addresses and putting them in the bcc field. You can put your message in the body of the email, but if you send the press release in an attached file, Word is the most usable format. A .doc (rather than .docx) file is safer since not everyone has upgraded to the latest version of Word.

Name the file according to your organization, the subject, and, if applicable, the date. For example, if you work for Company B and are sending out a press release about the company’s annual Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Festival coming up on April 21, your filename (or slug, as we used to call it) could be CompanyB-BoogieFest-04.21.15.

This way, when the recipient downloads that and every other file she’s received that day, she can identify and sort it at a glance. A file named “Press Release” is much more likely to get lost in the shuffle.

3. Keep your formatting simple. Fancy email stationery, fancy fonts, or intricate coding to work around a logo or info box — fuhgeddaboudit. Impress me with the efficiency of your words.

4. Keep it short, simple, and businesslike. Answer the four W’s and the H — who, what, when, where, why, and how — in the first paragraph. Do not put the organization’s mission statement or any conversational fluff in the first paragraph. Just the facts, plus the name, phone number, and email of at least one person to contact with questions about the release.

Here’s an example of a press release that came to us in good shape “as is” from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Let’s look at it paragraph by paragraph.

Sept. 10, 2012 FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The University of Saint Francis will expand its downtown Fort Wayne presence with the purchase of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building at 826 Ewing St. as a home for its Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. A fall closing date is anticipated.

This is the most important part of the press release: The lead. This succinctly tells you who is doing what, where, and approximately when. Granted, it does not address why USF is expanding its downtown presence or how it’s going to be funded.

The purchase locates the business school near the USF Performing Arts Center at 431 W. Berry St. The university purchased the former Scottish Rite Center in January as a performance hall and as a location for its Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts (META) program.

But see, here’s more information and a little more background in the very next paragraph.

“Locating the school of business near the USF Performing Arts Center supports the META program’s downtown momentum,” said Sister M. Elise Kriss, university president. “Since META intersects with business courses, locating the study centers near one another creates convenience for our students while partnering with the city to draw visitors to an enhanced downtown. The move also provides more space for the business school’s other programs and opens up main campus space for the School of Arts and Sciences.”

Ah, the obligatory quote from the president, leader, or spokesperson. This one would actually be worth printing since, to the credit of Sister Elise and the press release writer, it gives more of the logistics and the “why.” However, it could also be cut without leaving any gaping factual holes.

The chamber building has been for sale since 2010. The chamber is expected to remain in the building through the spring of 2013 while a search is undertaken for new office space in the downtown area.

Here we have a bit more background and timeframe for what is going to happen.

“We certainly appreciate the historical significance of the Chamber building in so many of Fort Wayne’s business dealings over the past 84 years,” said Chamber President and CEO Mike Landram. “Selling the building to the University of Saint Francis is the best and highest use of the building in service to the business community. We couldn’t be happier with this arrangement. We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time. It’s now time to evaluate available spaces within the downtown area that will allow us best serve chamber members.” Questions regarding the sale of the building can be directed to Landram at 260.424.1435 or mlandram@fwchamber.org.

There is nothing at all wrong with this quote; it’s full of goodwill and forward thinking. If the editor or whoever has space to fill, it can legitimately be included. If not, it can legitimately be cut. The last sentence about where to direct questions about the sale of the building might be left in if the editor feels it is relevant (say, in a business or real estate publication). I would have made it a separate paragraph since it’s not part of the quote.

The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization with a membership of 1,700 northeast Indiana businesses. It supports economic growth through member business resources and facilitating strategic connections across business, education and government.

The University of Saint Francis, founded in 1890 as a comprehensive university in the Catholic Franciscan tradition, offers more than 60 undergraduate and 14 graduate programs in five schools: The School of Health Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, School of Professional Studies and School of Creative Arts. It enrolls more than 2,300 students from a broad geographic region. The university has a regional campus in Crown Point, Ind.

These are the official descriptions that go at the bottom of every press release and rarely, if ever, make it into print. But if you have to include them at your end, you have to include them. We get that.

As I said earlier, good photos are welcome — either attached or available on request.

Keep it simple, get to the point, and get it right. You’ll create a much more abundant flow of information between your organization and the people you want to reach.